First day back in the office

First day back in the office. Drifts of unwanted high-calorie gifts pile up in the kitchen. A thin Mexican wave of coughing sweeps across the open-plan office; when it reaches the meeting room door there is an expectant silence as people wonder if it will gain admittance. A second or two later than expected, they hear that it has. People smile quietly and drop tissues in the bin. Darren is still wearing his antlers.

Christmas was great

The red star on the topmost branch is dangling a little off centre. Jon is sprawled on the rug in front of the dead fire, his head on a pillow of DVDs, his feet in a pile of chocolate wrappers. A light-up plastic penguin is peering down its beak at him.

Christmas was great, he says to himself. Christmas was great.

Too soon

It’s December 11th. I was be-antlered in the office today – be-antlered, not cornuto. Too soon, everyone said. But it’s Christmas two weeks today, I said. That’s not what we mean, they said, and looked at Kieren.

Taking down the decorations

In the Gardens the last of the decorations are being taken down. An upside-down Santa’s face leans against a chipped two-dimensional reindeer. A child screams from its fur-filled buggy. Bright yellow men are carrying, just, a slab of decking as wide as it is long. For some reason there are seven men on one side and four on the other. Nobody watching is surprised when their path, from a straight line towards the gate, becomes a graceful, then lurching, arc into an iron-railed corner.

The turkey and the Queen

The turkey and the Queen had been and gone. Sofa-slumped in stupor, clutching bellies, nobody wanted to dance or sing so Vikki began to play charades. Soon everyone knew what she had seen Mummy doing with Santa Claus.

Ted swung his fist but the mulled wine made him miss. Uncle Nick made a dash for it. Snow blew in through the open door and Ted’s words flew back to him. “Is it a film?” Vikki asked.

Published on 04 January 2016 

The tree

The tree stood in an old flowerpot wrapped in red tissue. Tina sprayed it with bleach against allergens then with hairspray to stop needledrop. She wrapped it with tinsel and wove lights around the branches. Finally the crowning glory: the fairy from the shoebox was placed ceremoniously on top. A minute later she sneezed, opened her eyes, shook her head and flew out of the window. Tina stared, open-mouthed. In the kitchen Rocky was barking.

First published on 22 December 2015

Sam died just outside the ladies’ changing rooms

Sam died just outside the ladies’ changing rooms, sitting on one of those padded plastic benches where the bored husbands wait to say everything looks lovely. He was watching a woman walk by carrying champagne flutes and a Christmas sweater when the pain started and his heart stopped. None of the men noticed anything different until Felicity emerged in her potential party dress and, smiling apologetically at those who had survived him, gave the slumping Sam a poke.

The commotion in the department store exploded then soon calmed; they almost seemed used to it. Inside Felicity’s head the commotion lasted much, much longer. Hours later she found herself sitting on the edge of her bed, her sensible coat draped around her bare shoulders. She shrugged it off. Somehow she was still wearing the sparkling black party dress. She stood and looked at herself in the mirror, turned one shoulder and reached round to pull down the zip. It had jammed. She almost, almost, called out for Sam then cried as if she would never stop.